Follow Your Passion and Maintain Grit through Adversity

WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH: Female youth football player and Fenwick alumna drew on real-life inspiration to write a best-selling children’s book.

By Laura Enriquez ’08

I learned this lesson at the young age of 11, when I became the first female to play football for St. Mary’s of Riverside. Initially, I wanted to play because I love the sport … and really, who wouldn’t want to take out their pent-up aggression in a channeled way? But what I didn’t understand was, as the first female in the league, playing football became something much bigger.

The first sign of obstacles appeared during sign-ups when the head coach pointed in the direction of the cheerleading table. What he didn’t realize, and what Fenwick would learn during my freshman year, is I would be the worst cheerleader. Just ask anyone present at my poms try-out, when I kicked up too high and fell backwards. Needless to say, I didn’t make it to day two. 

Ms. Enriquez as a Riverside youth football trailblazer 20 years ago.

I soon learned the pressure of being “the first” at something. While there were many who supported me, there were also others who had more traditional views. These naysayers became vocal in their opposition. There was even an instance when a father approached my mom on the train and criticized her for allowing me to play. 

As a female in a male-dominated sport, there were other challenges. Naturally, boys and girls are built differently, but this difference was exacerbated during my experience. For example, it was difficult to find and create appropriate protective equipment. The biggest introspective challenge I faced was how I began to perceive my body. I wanted to be a running back, so I could feel the ball and know the glory of scoring a touchdown.  But, I became a lineman who are generally known as the “bigger guys” and equivalent to playing right field in T-ball, or so I thought. And then there were challenges that every athlete faces: balancing friends and sports, getting homework done, and caring for your physical being.

While playing, I worked harder than I’d ever worked before. There were many times I thought about giving up, but I knew I could not. When you are the only female surrounded by males, there’s added pressure to not just do well, but be the best. I accepted this as a challenge and spent the season proving my worth so that my experience could open up doors for other females in the future. 

Two-way “iron woman”

During our 2001 season, I played both offensive and defensive line, as well as contributed to special teams. As a captain of the team, I helped lead the Demons to the Chicago Catholic League Championship. And because of my relentlessness and hard work, I ended the season with the most tackles in the league. But the most rewarding accomplishment was what I learned about myself.

When it was time to choose a high school, my mom knew Fenwick was for me. She chose mine and my siblings’ schools based on our personalities, and we’ve attended almost every Catholic school from St. Ignatius to Trinity. Naturally, she thought Fenwick would be a good fit for my competitive nature — and, let’s be honest, all Friars are competitive!

On the first day, we sat in the auditorium and Borsch gave his “look to the left, look to the right” spiel. Seeing as I was sitting next to two very intelligent people, I became worried about what to expect. And in the next four years, I would find that Fenwick had its adversities as well. 

The academic rigor was something new for me. Prior to Fenwick, school came easy. It wasn’t until Denise Megall’s Spanish class did I realize how hard I was going to have to work to earn good grades. Also, … most of my classmates were perfectly petite — a mold I didn’t fit. At times, I felt lost and didn’t know how or where I “fit in.”

Thankfully, Fenwick’s educators are heavily invested in their students, which allowed me to create strong relationships with my teachers. In fact, the thing I admire most about Fenwick is its ability to develop not just well-educated, but well-rounded humans. 

As a Friar student-athlete, Laura was a member of Fenwick’s softball and debate teams (2007-08 yearbook photo).

Fenwick taught me how to interact with people. In Andy Arellano’s speech class, I learned irreplaceable communication skills, like the importance of “hitting the corners” and when to use the KISS method. If you haven’t taken this class yet, my advice is: don’t make tiramisu for your “how to” speech when your Italian classmate is performing the same speech and has samples.

As a Lincoln-Douglas and Public Forum debater, John Paulett and Mary Beth Logas taught me the artistic way to weaponize words. And as a senior, Paulett facilitated my desire to build a larger community outreach program when he helped me found the New Orleans Humanitarian Trip. I am honored to learn that it is still ongoing. 

I attribute my passion for literature to Kim Darkes (Kotty), whom I had the pleasure of being one of her first students. She often took time to lend me books and engage in literary conversation outside of class. I even once asked her to grab coffee so we could chat more about literature. In hindsight, I see why my sisters thought (well, think) that was so weird. By the way, I’m still waiting for that cup of “Joe.” 

And so, while there were many times I wanted a more familiar path, Fenwick showed me how hard work coupled with support can produce the unthinkable. The passions I developed became the foundation for the journey I embarked on as an adult. 

I returned to Fenwick after graduating from Sacred Heart University because Peter Groom was kind enough to allow me to student-teach under Kate Whitman while attending graduate school. I felt compelled to give back to Fenwick (in any way I could) and, thanks to Mike Marresee, I became the head JV softball coach along with Peter Gallo.

Writing a book

Demons, published in December 2020, is fiction inspired by the author’s reality.

In the recent zeitgeist, there has been more encouragement and female involvement in male-dominated sports. I knew my story needed to be told to a larger audience because young women deserve to “see themselves” in every walk of life. After spending several years in the classroom, trying to instill the same values in my students as my teachers instilled in me, I decided to leave teaching to pursue authorship, a big risk.  Luckily, Therese Hawkins and Debbie Tracy (Nazareth Academy Principal and President) are fierce supporters and advocates, and gave me their
blessings to do so. 

Writing a novel itself is not an easy feat. There’s brainstorming, writing, editing, rewriting … we all know the writing process we tried so hard to short cut in high school. There were many times I wanted to give up. Each time these thoughts crossed my mind, I reflected on why I was doing this to begin with. Inevitably, the thought of quitting was the antithesis of not just my message, but also the values that have been ingrained in me. And so, it is through passion and grit that my novel, Demons, was published in December 2020. It soon became a best-seller on Amazon and has been featured by several sports organizations, including AAU Sports.

Overall, it’s important to examine what skills we have and how we can use them to uplift others, no matter how difficult the journey may be. Afterall, great leaders want more great leaders, and because that’s what Fenwick does: produces go-getters who strive to make the world better.

About the Author

Fenwick alumna Laura Enriquez taught English and was an assistant girls’ softball coach at Nazareth Academy (La Grange Park, IL) from 2017-20. Since publishing her first novel this past December, she has been working on related marketing and speaking engagements. Demons is the No. 1 new release for Children’s Football Books on Amazon and is featured by AAU Sports, SGIS and The Landmark.

READ THE ARTICLE ABOUT DEMONS IN THE RIVERSIDE/BROOKFIELD LANDMARK.

Fenwick Faculty, Staff Receive First Dose of COVID Vaccine!

Some 140 of our “Status 1B Educators” rolled up their sleeves this past weekend.

School Nurse Donna Pape administers the shot to Senior Class Counselor and baseball coach Mr. Pat Jacobsen, who was one of some 140 Fenwick faculty and staff members to get vaccinated on Saturday.

Fenwick teachers, coaches, staff and administrators received their first COVID-19 vaccinations at a Saturday event for Oak Park private schools. “We had a great turn out with approximately 265 Oak Park private school educators and staff,” reports School Nurse Kathleen Monty, RN. “Of that, approximately 140 were Fenwick faculty/staff. The Village of Oak Park and the Oak Park Board of Health were pleased with the turnout ….” Later this month, the faculty/staff will return for shot two. 

Ms. Monty adds that she and fellow School Nurse Donna Pape, RN, appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding. “The Fenwick faculty and staff have put up with all our constantly changing rules and have shown up every day since August for our students. We are proud to be part of the Fenwick family!”

Fenwick President Fr. Richard Peddicord, O.P. notes: “Please join me thanking our nurses, Donna Pape and Kitty Monty, for all their great work this year and their heroic efforts to get all of us vaccinated on Saturday. It was truly inspiring to see them in action! The Fenwick community owes them so much. Thanks, too, to Bryan Boehm [Digital Learning Specialist] and Jimmy Sperandio [Class of ’85 and Community Resource Officer] for their good work on Saturday on our behalf.”

Fenwick ‘Mathletes’ Claim Chicago Archdiocese Crown

The school’s Math Competition Club is moderated by alumnus Roger Finnell from the Class of ’59, who has been teaching in the building this academic year.

Fenwick High School defeated 12 other Chicago-area, Catholic high schools earlier this month to win the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Math Contest. The competition has been held annually since 1967 — four years after Roger Finnell began teaching math at Fenwick in the fall of 1963. Mr. Finnell (pictured above, in his classroom, where he still uses chalk!) grew up in Cicero and Forest View, IL, attending grade school at Queen of Heaven, then St. Leonard’s in Berwyn. He has been in charge of running the archdiocese’s contest for the past 52 years.

“Fenwick has been fortunate to win first place 15 of the last 22 years with some extremely talented and dedicated math competitors,” reports Finnell, who is the Friars’ proud math club moderator and longtime chair of Fenwick’s Mathematics Department. To win this year’s Archdiocesan championship, his team tallied the highest score among both divisions of Catholic schools, which include (in alphabetical order): De La Salle Institute, DePaul Prep, Marist, Marian Catholic (Chicago Heights), Marmion Academy (Aurora), Montini (Lombard), Mount Carmel, St. Francis (Wheaton), St. Ignatius, St. Rita of Cascia, St. Viator (Arlington Heights) and Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart (Lake Forest). Like much of this school year, the 2021 math contest was conducted “virtually” online.

Mr. Finnell in 1968 (yearbook image).

Alongside many Archdiocesan high schools, Fenwick has successfully operated a hybrid education model since last August. Approximately half of its 1,100 students are in the building on Mondays and Wednesdays, and the other half comes in on Tuesdays and Thursdays. (Note: Some families have opted for fully remote, eLearning.) However, COVID-19 adjustments have not deterred Finnell, a 1959 alumnus of Fenwick who has been teaching at his alma mater for 58 years. The former Friar student returned to Oak Park shortly after graduating from Loyola University (Chicago), where he also completed his master’s degree in mathematics. Amazingly, five decades later, he can be seen in the building this school year. “The past year has been challenging to say the least!” Finnell admits. “Like others [teachers], I have had to adjust teaching to a camera while still engaging the in-person learners,” he explains, “but I miss the one-to-oneness in class during normal times.

“I have tried to do all the usual math competition activity [this year],” Finnell continues. “Three math leagues [17 contests total] have been online — with fewer participants than usual. Our junior-high math contest was online and drew twice as many contestants as usual! For state math contest practices, all early ones were conducted online. Now, for three team events, we have asked students to attend in-person practices, which have gone fairly normally. I miss going to a local college for state math regionals, and the team misses going to Champaign for the state finals. This year, the state contest is totally virtual, one day only, with less events than usual. But our team is still looking forward to it.

Continue reading “Fenwick ‘Mathletes’ Claim Chicago Archdiocese Crown”

FOREVER FRIARS: Remembering Fr. Roderick Malachy Dooley, O.P. (1919-2002)

By Will Potter, Chicago Tribune staff reporter (originally published on June 18, 2002)

Rev. R. Malachy Dooley, 82, was at nearly every wedding, funeral, baptism and party involving alumni of Fenwick High School. His giving spirit – from remembering the anniversaries of couples he married to taking friends on tours of Ireland – made him a cornerstone of the Fenwick community.

“Everyone thinks of him as their best friend,” said Bill Stein, a former student [Class of ’53, now deceased] and longtime friend. “And he thought of everyone as his best friend. Asking for nothing and giving everything, that was him.”

The late Professor Peter Bagnolo, a former student, painted this watercolor, which hangs in Fenwick’s 4th-floor (priory) Dooley Conference Room.

Father Dooley, a Dominican friar for 60 years and a teacher and fundraiser for Fenwick High School in Oak Park, died Saturday, June 15, of cancer in his home in the Dominican Priory of River Forest.

Father Dooley was born in Minneapolis. He started at Fenwick in 1950 as a theology teacher. When administrators asked him in the early 1950s to head fundraising projects for the school, he threw himself into the new task.

In the 1950s Father Dooley raised more than $1million for Fenwick’s first capital campaign that resulted in construction of the west wing, including an auditorium and classrooms. In the 1980s he raised more than $3 million for science laboratories and an endowment fund, and in the 1990s he raised $10 million for an athletics field house and pool.

Although quite a successful raiser of funds, the bespectacled Fr. Dooley did not like asking for money.

From 1963 to 1973, Father Dooley was assigned to St. Pius V parish in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, St. Anthony Parish in New Orleans and Bishop Lynch High School in Dallas. He then returned to his work at Fenwick.

Father Dooley did not like asking for money and, in fact, he rarely did, said Leo Latz [Fenwick Class of ’76], a former assistant and longtime friend. He didn’t have to.

“People give to things they feel connected to,” Latz said. “Dooley got legions of people to be connected or reconnected to the school. He had a gift of creating community and connecting people to their alma mater and reminding them of why they should be grateful. He has been the common denominator in Fenwick’s success in the last 50 years.”

He was awarded the [inaugural) Lumen Tranquillum, or Quiet Light, award by the school in November.

Exploring Grudges and Forgiveness

A Fenwick Preaching Team Member shares his Ash Wednesday faith reflection.

By Will Chioda ’21

Friar Preaching Team Member Will Chioda is a Fenwick senior who resides in Hinsdale, IL.

I would like to start off Mass with a small but encouraging note: The last time we had an all-school Mass was almost exactly a year ago today, on Ash Wednesday. This feels like a step in the right direction towards getting closer to normalcy.

If anyone listening has had the immense pleasure of getting to know me, you might know that I am not a person who forgives easily. I tend to hold a harsh and lengthy grudge against a person. Most of the time, this defense mechanism against getting hurt again prevents me from deepening relationships and trusting others. The irony in this is that I am far from a perfect person. I have wronged, hurt and offended many, including a number of our fellow classmates listening right now. However, Jesus calls believers to be forgiving, which is something that I plan on focusing on during this Lenten season.

In my research and reflection on the topic of forgiveness, I noted a subtle connection between the dictionary definition of forgiveness, and a personal favorite prayer of mine, the Peace Prayer. While the dictionary says that forgiveness is the willingness to pardon, St. Francis’s prayer reminds us that it is in pardoning that we are pardoned. In other words, the motivation to forgive others is that, in return, our own wrong-doings are forgiven. In my case, there is no way I can fully love others if, in fear of being hurt again, I focus my attention only on what another person has done wrong. My strongest, most loving and supportive relationships are those in which differences and misdeeds are mutually acknowledged and forgiven. 

With the arrival of the Lenten Season comes a call from God. As students of faith, we are presented with the opportunity to foster personal growth and to create positive change. Lent is a reminder to repent, turn to the gospel and seek forgiveness for our sins.

READ BROTHER TROUT’S BLOG ABOUT HOW TO “LENT”
DURING A PANDEMIC.

LENTEN REFLECTION 2021: At Home in the Desert

Lent during a pandemic: How Dorothy Day’s story poured on a Dominican Brother like a sweet sun shower.

By Br. Joseph Trout, O.P.

Servant of God Dorothy Day did not support the New Deal. This was an utterly intriguing fact even before the current pandemic and ongoing relief-package debates. Dorothy Day was a fixture in progressive and socialist movements of the early 20th century who converted to Catholicism and continued a life of radical commitment to the poor, nourished by daily Mass and the Rosary. PBS released an outstanding documentary on her a year ago (“Revolution of the Heart“), which I cannot recommend highly enough.

She not only established communities for the poor, she chose to live with them in poverty herself. Yet, this champion of the forgotten initially opposed the New Deal and only gradually came to see it as necessary to help people survive the Great Depression. She was not particularly enthusiastic about it. Why not? And what on earth does this have to do with Lent?

To the first question, Dorothy Day’s logic is fairly straightforward: It is our job to serve our neighbors. Outsourcing the works of mercy to the government erodes the community that binds us together. It eases the consciences of the successful who can fool themselves into thinking, “We have paid our taxes, let someone else deal with those in need!” She feared the depersonalization of the needy and a world where we could talk about “people on welfare” rather than our family, friends, neighbors in need. We build up the Kingdom of God, not Caesar. 

I know very little about economics, let alone economic policy. I don’t know what the best way out of a depression or a pandemic is. I have zero policy proposals for you here. It certainly seems like “communities coming together” is too simplistic to solve our problems, but I can also imagine Dorothy Day begging each of us to act now and help those struggling regardless of what the government does. Jesus did not say, “whatever Caesar did not do for one of these least ones …” but rather, “whatever you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” If Jesus and Dorothy Day are to be taken seriously, you and I have some work to do.  

What’s Lent Got to Do with It?

What, then, of the second question? What does any of this have to do with Lent? For me, gearing up for Lent has been a challenge. Sure, it calls us into the desert every year — but aren’t we already in the desert? This year, it feels like we are being asked to buy property and take out a mortgage in the desert. This has become our home, and here we are to stay. Just last week I heard someone genuinely asked if schools will be in a hybrid next year and I shuddered a little. How can anyone care about normal penitential practices such as giving up desserts and alcohol after a year of significant sacrifices? What more could God be asking of anyone?

I have to admit when I first asked myself that question, an inner voice rebuked me. Lent happens every year and has for millenia. I don’t know what a season of penance meant in World War II, or during the Depression, or any number of other plagues in history. (I’m sure people prayed a lot!) Much of our world is always vulnerable without easy pleasures. And, to be honest, I haven’t really lost the things I personally enjoy. I spent last Saturday morning reading War and Peace and then running on a treadmill for an hour. I did both of those things for my enjoyment — not penance. I never really liked going out to eat anyway. It’s hard to get too upset about hybrid teaching and not being able to visit family as much when I look at unemployment numbers, death tolls and food-pantry shortages. 

Perhaps this is exactly the point. Lent has never been about these little sacrifices in and of themselves. It always has been about love: learning to actually love God and neighbor and to be less self-centered. Now, as someone who can enjoy running on a treadmill, I probably shouldn’t give others specific advice about penitential actions. Human beings have great variety in their pleasures and pains. Whatever penance and sacrifice are, they should always move us outwards. They transform us into a new Christ. To put it simply: Lent is about losing ego, not weight. I am forced to ask myself what my life is all about. What do I hope for? What do I do with what I have been given? Can I stop spending money on my pleasures to find a greater joy in loving my neighbor? That has always been the big question. If it’s unpleasant to be generous, then I need conversion and I need it now.

Could Dorothy Day become a saint?

Dorothy Day captures my imagination this Lent because I’m not sure how generous this pandemic has made me. She chose to live with the poor and openly admitted that it was not always pleasant. She loved them anyway. She refused to outsource love and mercy. I, however, have complained a lot this year (just ask Principal Groom, he has plenty of text messages to confirm this). I have spent a lot of time running, reading and focused on me. Sure, I’ve helped others and prayed rosaries while running, but have I found joy in love? Have I been attentive to the needy? Am I more like Christ than I was a year ago? Whatever I think about the government’s response to this pandemic, have I made the world a better place?

As much as I hate to admit it, it really is time to take up a home in the desert. God will send manna and quail. He’s certainly sent plenty of (frozen) water. He will nourish us. No, this isn’t the promised land. Let’s not lie to ourselves about that. However, the central Christian mystery is that dying with Christ brings us new life; his spirit will breathe new life into our dry bones. This is the sure promise of faith. As impossible as it seems to believe, Jesus asks us to die a bit more to ourselves out here in the desert so that with him we may create a beautiful oasis. He has asked us to be merciful as he is merciful. How will we answer him?

Brother Joe Trout, O.P. (“BroTro”) is Chair of the Theology Department at Fenwick, head coach for the Boys’ Bowling Team and an assistant coach for the Girls’ Cross Country Team. He grew up in Fort Wayne, IN, and graduated from Purdue University in 2009 where he studied Math Education. For a year Br. Trout taught middle school math in Crawfordsville, IN, before entering the Dominican Order in 2010. He completed a Master’s in Theology from Aquinas Institute in 2015, focusing his research on the relationship between morality and psychology based on the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas , O.P.

HIS STORY: Tackling Race at Fenwick

A former class president and Oak Parker writes about trading his orange-and-blue colors of the Youth Huskies football program for the Friars’ black and white in 2011 – and never looking back. But what about that other “black-and-white” issue?

By Aaron Garland ’15

Growing up, I hated Fenwick as a kid. I believe it was because I always imagined myself in an orange and blue uniform at OPRF High School. Playing under the lights on Lake Street was a dream of mine.

I remember in grade school, I went to watch OPRF play Fenwick in a basketball game. The energy was crazy! It was standing room only at the field house. Iman Shumpert [now with the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets] was the star at the time, and I felt like he embodied what OPRF was about. Another reason I was attached to OPRF was because I played for the Oak Park Youth Huskies and looked forward to continuing the sport together. A few guys who were a part of that team were Lloyd Yates [OPRF & NU, see below], Christopher Hawthorne [Fenwick ’15] and Antonio Cannon [OPRF & Augustana College].

Huskies and Friars: Offensive lineman Adam Lemke-Bell (from left) and QB Lloyd Yates both went on to Northwestern, while CB Garland headed to UConn and DT Hawthorne to Illinois Wesleyan.

My journey to Fenwick began with my Mom. Around sixth grade, she would always say, “You’re going to Fenwick.” I didn’t think she was serious until she made me take the Fenwick entrance exam. I didn’t want to do it but, in my heart, I knew it was the best thing for me. The academic expectation at Fenwick scared me. Growing up, when Fenwick High School came up in conversation, the academic prestige was mentioned. I knew Fenwick would challenge me academically. A piece of me wanted to take the easy way out and leave the exam blank on test day. That wasn’t my style, though. I liked challenges!

When it came to test day, I remember it was early on a Saturday morning. I had a basketball practice shortly after, so my plan was to take the exam as quickly as possible so I could go hoop! As I took the test, I hoped that Fenwick would not accept me.

While waiting on my results, I continued my regular routine playing sports and hanging out with friends. Growing up in the Oak Park-River Forest area was special. For the bulk of my childhood, I hung out with mostly white guys and girls with a sprinkling of blacks and Latinos.

Garland was a three-year starter on the Friars’ varsity, which won IHSA playoff games all three seasons and advanced to the 7A quarter-finals in 2014. As a senior, the cornerback had four interceptions and two pick-sixes. ESPN ranked him a top-75 CB prospect nationally.

I finally got my test results, and I was in! Two of my close friends received letters of acceptance as well. So the three of us were headed to Fenwick. During our first assembly, Mr. Borsch told us to look to our left and right. He went on to say that the person next to us would not be here in four years. I was shocked that he said that and wondered why people didn’t finish. Was it the tough academics? The dress code? Or the rules? As I looked around at the freshman class, I was hoping that I would be one of the few to remain. Sadly, after one and a half years, both my friends were gone. I won’t go into detail on why they didn’t remain; let’s just say Fenwick was not the right fit for them.

I had a couple close calls at Fenwick myself that could have gotten me kicked out. I am grateful for the mercy that was shown by Wallace Pendleton [Fenwick Class of 2005], our Dean of Students at the time. Wallace was a former Division 1 athlete [Akron football] and he is African American. I believe being black in that situation actually helped me and he saw something in me. Thank you, Wallace. At this point, I was tested to expand my friendships beyond the friends I came in with. That same year, my sister transferred to Fenwick from Trinity, so that was a plus. [BONUS BLOG: Read how alumni Maya Garland ’14, Aaron’s sister, defied the odds.]

AG (5’11” and 193 lbs. in college) eventually did become a Husky again — at UConn.

I played basketball, football and baseball my first year at Fenwick. I later switched to only playing football. I always believed I was a great baseball player, but I knew football was going to be the sport that sent me to college for free. I later switched to only playing football. The summer before my junior year, I received a full-ride scholarship to play at the University of Connecticut.

Playing sports at Fenwick made it easy to be accepted by others. I had some good teammates like Keshaun Smith [Class of 2014], Robert Spillane [’14], Chris Hawthorne ’15 and Richard Schoen ’14, but the list goes on and on. Along with good teammates, I had some great coaches: Gene Nudo (football), Mark Laudadio ’84 (basketball) and Titcus Pettigrew (football). However, I felt bad for the minorities who were not connected with others through sports.

I would be lying if I said racism did not exist at Fenwick. I also wouldn’t be telling the truth if I said everyone there was racist. There was definitely a disconnect between minorities and whites.

‘East Kids’ and ‘West Kids’

I mentioned earlier that I grew up with mostly white guys and girls and a sprinkle of blacks and Latinos. So attending Fenwick, a majority white school, was not new to me. No matter what school I attended growing up, minorities always stuck together.

Naturally, we all feel more comfort when we are around the same race. However, I never wanted to put limits on friendships based on race, so I made an effort to be friends will all races. Personally, I can’t remember anytime that someone called me the ‘N word’ or was openly racist towards me while at Fenwick. I was the class president my junior year, so I guess I had won the hearts of my classmates the first two years. I would have been class president two years in row if I had decided to run my senior year, but I wanted to give someone else the opportunity to add the position to their high school resume. I enjoyed being class president, it gave me a sense of purpose outside of sports. It also helped me get rid of the stereotype that blacks attended Fenwick only for sports. I am not sure if I was the first black class president at Fenwick, but I’m sure I was one of the few.

Racism has been talked about for centuries. Here is my take on it: I believe it starts at home. Kids do outside what they are taught at home. In Fenwick’s situation, a lot of kids come from the western suburbs, such as Burr Ridge, Western Springs and Hinsdale. We called these people “west kids.”

AG returned to the Priory in 2018 to coach Fenwick defensive backs at the freshman level. Those players are now juniors.

Those neighborhoods lack diversity. So, due to the lack of diversity in those neighborhoods, it leads to kids being awkward around minorities. I remember going to parties in the west suburbs and feeling like I was being “watched” by the parents a little more closely than others. I am not saying everyone from the west suburbs is racist. I believe the interaction is just different with them. It’s not their fault that they grew up in a neighborhood that lacks diversity.

At Fenwick, you had two types of white kids — those who fit in with the minorities and those who didn’t. The kids who fit in seemed to have grown up in the Oak Park, Elmwood Park and Chicago area. Also known as the “east kids,” these students seemed to be more familiar with minorities due to their environment. So, it was not a problem of race but rather with environment.

I am grateful for the experiences I had at Fenwick. My classmates and teachers all made it a unique experience. Of course, academically we learned a lot and were challenged. Fenwick prepared me for college courses at UConn. Honestly, I felt like Fenwick was harder than college academically. I believe this is the reason I was able to graduate from college in three years and serve on the leadership board of the college of liberal arts and sciences.

Aside from the books, it was the people I appreciated learning from, especially Gene Nudo and Rena [Ciancio ’00] McMahon. Coach Nudo told me to be the kind of guy that colleges want to put on the front page of their advertisements. Nudo was my favorite coach throughout my sports career. He loved his players. Ms. McMahon was my counselor. She always believe in me and knew how to listen when I needed someone to talk to. If I wasn’t in class or practicing, I was talking to Rena or Nudo in their offices.

I learned how to be a young man at Fenwick, how to speak, how to treat people and, most importantly, how to keep God in your life. One of the statements we heard at Fenwick was “Everything in moderation,” which has stuck with me until this day!

Graduation Day at UConn: Aaron and his Fenwick alumna sister, Maya Garland ’14. READ HER BLOG.

My first job when I came back from college was with state senator Don Harmon, who is now the president of the Illinois Senate. This job came from the help of Fenwick alumnus Sean Harmon [Class of 2004], Don’s cousin. While working with Senator Harmon, I started coaching freshman football at Fenwick. I am currently working at the Cook County Board of Review as an appeals analyst. I say this to show that Fenwick opened up doors for me when it was time to join the “real world.” I am confident that the prestige of Fenwick will continue to do that. Moving forward, I am going to be a helping hand in bringing diversity, equity and inclusion to Fenwick so that more minorities will have the opportunity to attend one of the best schools in the state.

I encourage students to love one another and find things in common with people who don’t look like you. Whether it be academics, hobbies or sports, we all can relate somehow. Also, make time to have conversations with the adults in the building. There are many great minds in that building, whether it is the lunch ladies or those working in administration, from whom you can learn something.

I want to give thanks to the following people who were not mentioned above. Mrs. Nowicki (math teacher); Mr. Arellano (retired speech teacher); Tony McCormick [’78] and Becky (athletic trainers); Mr. Ruffino (friend, former coach and facilities director); Mr. Ori (admissions director, ’03) and Mrs. (Morris) Ori (English teacher, ’06); Mr. Schoeph (English teacher, ’95); the ladies in Student Services, Ms. Rowe and Ms. Shanahan; Kita (lunch lady); Mark Vruno (football coach); Mrs. Carraher (Spanish teacher, ’96); Mrs. Megall (retired Spanish teacher); and Coach Heldmann (RIP). Lastly, thank you to my Mom and Dad for sending me to Fenwick. I am sure a left a few out … thank you all!

IN ADDITION TO INTERCEPTIONS, HARD-HITTING TACKLES AND ACROBATIC PASS BREAK-UPS, AG’S SENIOR HIGHLIGHTS FROM FENWICK FOOTBALL FEATURE SOME ELECRIFYING KICK RETURNS, TOO!

BONUS BLOG by Maya Garland ’14 (Aaron’s sister):

Read why “west kid” Jack Henrichs ’22 thinks his commute from La Grange, IL, to Fenwick was worth the adjustment his freshman year.

MORE FRIAR BLACK HISTORY
Also read about:

The Fenwick Journey of Alumnus Michael Black ’09

Fenwick’s First Black Student in 1955

Why Marlon Hall Left Fenwick in the Early 1970s

HER STORY: Defying the Odds

At the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), this young black woman promised herself to stop being naïve and continued proving her critics wrong — on and off the basketball court.

By Maya Garland ’14

High school is an undervalued moment in our lives that is pivotal in shaping and defining who we are to become. Fenwick High School has played such a foundational role in my life. There are many lessons I have learned during my time at Fenwick that will resonate with me forever. Some of these lessons are straightforward, one being “everything in moderation.” But some of the other lessons Fenwick has taught me are somewhat more difficult and perceived as not appropriate to bring up.

Maya Garland is a R&D
engineer/project manager for Amazon in Chicago.

I did not realize or understand most of these more challenging teachings as a naïve, sheltered high-schooler. It wasn’t until after graduating from Fenwick that I now can fully understand them. I won’t share the details of them all! But one that stands out to me the most is that not everyone in the halls I walked in saw me as an equal, whether classmates or faculty members who did not perceive me as the other students. To some, my appearance marked me as inadequate or trouble. I can’t count how many times I walked into an advanced class on the first day of school, and other students would ask if I had the right course because they didn’t believe I had the knowledge to be in an honors class.

I am not here to complain or badger this community. More so, I am here to thank you all. My time at Fenwick was the reason that I made one of most significant lifelong promises to myself – that I would never be that naïve again! I cannot neglect the stereotypes that I must defy due to the representation of my skin color. It is a fundamental reason why I walk with my head held high, and I defy all odds of what some might believe a “colored person” should be in everything I do.

For example, I heard that less than 2% of minority women major in engineering in college and less than 1% go on to receive their master’s in engineering. From the first day I stepped on UAB’s college campus, I made sure to let my academic advisor know that I wanted to major in biomedical engineering. Five years later, I not only graduated with my master’s in biomedical engineering, but I was the first student of any race to do so in the shortest amount of time.

Much More than Basketball

STEM Star: In addition to her D1 athletic prowess, Ms. Garland graduated cum laude from UAB, where she earned a master’s degree in materials engineering.

I thank some families at Fenwick because they insinuated that basketball will be my only glorified moment in my life and that I would not amount to anything else outside a basketball court. These comments motivated me even more after I had my third major surgery in college and knew there wouldn’t be any more opportunities to play basketball professionally. Instead of being devastated, I didn’t want to give them any possible claim to their remarks. So, I made sure to always keep a smile on my face and let anyone who approaches me about my misfortunate injuries know that my life is bigger than the game of basketball. Shortly after ending my basketball career, I accepted an offer from Amazon as an engineer in their research and development department.

My time at Fenwick was immaculate – it was the first time I thought I was in love (and the second). It instilled confidence in me that I could do anything. It provides more moments to share with my brother, to witness his transformation from the boy who refused to go to Fenwick to the man he is today. [BONUS BLOG: Read alumnus Aaron Garland ’15‘s journey at Fenwick.] Lastly, it introduced the Bible into my life. I owe so much to this school; however, I have only been back twice to visit Fenwick, and both times were to use the gym amenities to train for the upcoming basketball season.

I am reluctant to go back now because I am somewhat disappointed in myself for not disproving the status quo of how a minority teen should act and be. Although I am proud of my accomplishments after Fenwick, I understand that I proved my critics right on multiple occasions during my time at Fenwick. After school, I lived in JUG. I was part of the group of students who almost didn’t graduate due to the number of tardies I accumulated throughout my senior year. Lastly (most disappointing one of them all), my high school grades did not reflect someone who would graduate cum laude in college.

White-and-Black Lenses

Maya as a Friar
in 2014.

For a very long time, I thought that my upbringing from being raised in River Forest (a predominantly white neighborhood) and attending Trinity High School as a freshman — then transferred to another predominately white school (Fenwick) — affected my connection to other black kids. Most of them didn’t give me the validity of being a young black girl trying to make it because of where I grew up. However, it also negatively instilled an ignorance in me to believe that racism didn’t exist in my life. I honestly thought that the questionable choices I made during high school were seen as youth growing pains by others, and that’s why no one spoke up about my actions. But, now I understand that no one encouraged me to do better because they expected trouble from someone who looked like me. But I also know that some students like me didn’t have the output as myself or my brother.

So, I am writing to several groups today. I am speaking to the minority students at Fenwick to encourage them not to let the stereotypes define them in this world. Use those labels that you are marked with from birth to drive you to do anything you want. I know the struggles many of you face and how you have to fight the assumptions the world labels you with because of your skin color. But you also have to fight the doubt that lies in your head for the simple reason you are a young human being, and we all experience self-criticism or doubt! I know how you fight to concentrate on your school work when there’s too much noise at home; how you keep it together when your family’s having a hard time making ends meet.

But most importantly, I know the strength that is in each one of you. The small incidents that my brother and I both share with you all infuriated us both. We recalled them because they were unfamiliar. These incidents are what the white community doesn’t understand about being a person of color in this nation, that there are daily repulses we face no matter what age we are; wherever it may be, in schools or in workplaces, some people talk over us while others don’t even see us. I encourage you all to never dim your light out of courtesy to anyone. You embody all of the courage and love, all of the hunger and hope that have always defined our reasoning for pushing forward.

I am also speaking to the majority in the Fenwick community. Fenwick is in a unique position to not allow this to continue in its school environment. The potential leaders that can be molded from the influence Fenwick provides haven’t even begun to scratch its surface. Therefore, I am challenging all of you in this community to continue to grow and evolve. There has never been a more epic state of time, with the controversies we face in this country, to revolutionize the future minds to come!

READ THE GUEST BHM BLOG BY MAYA’S BROTHER,
AARON GARLAND ’14:

MORE FRIAR BLACK HISTORY
Also read about:

The Fenwick Journey of Alumnus Michael Black ’09

Fenwick’s First Black Student in 1955

Why Marlon Hall Left Fenwick in the Early 1970s

BLACK HISTORY MONTH 2021: My Fenwick Journey

By Mike Black ’09

My journey to Fenwick was different from my fellow classmates. Unlike most of them, I didn’t have any family members who were Fenwick alumni. I remember vividly, on the first day of school, one of my classmates telling me how his aunt, uncle, parents and even cousins all attended Fenwick. Weird, right? Well, to me it was. My mantra is live your own life and not follow in the footsteps of others, even if they are your family members. It’s okay to create your own path and paint your own canvas.

Classmate and teammate Xavier Humphrey ’09 encouraged Mike to consider Fenwick.

It all started in eighth grade when I was invited to try out for Nothing But Net, one of the top AAU programs in the state. I managed to have a great tryout and impressed all the players as well as the coaches, which eventually led to a permanent spot on the team. One player who I particularly seemed to develop a rapport with was Xavier Humphrey [also Class of 2009], who was ranked as one of the top players in the state. To this day, he is still one of my best friends.

After practice, Xavier and his father asked what high school I planned to attend. At the time, I was lightly getting recruited by Von Steuben and Lane Tech, but the Humphreys insisted I should take the exam at Fenwick because the school is known for academics and athletics. At first, I was resistant since I valued an urban and diverse experience, which I already had in public school. However, my mother, who was a special-education teacher, and father, who was a private investigator, encouraged me to explore Fenwick. They always believed that exposure leads to expansion. After shadowing at Fenwick, I realized it could be a solid option. I took the exam along with Xavier; we both passed, and it was a done deal: We were officially Friars.

Black, a West Side kid, making good as a senior at Fenwick (2008-09 season). He returned in the summer of 2020 as a Friars’ varsity assistant coach!

I didn’t play varsity basketball as a freshman but played on the sophomore team. Coach Thies, now Athletic Director at Fenwick [and a Class of ’99 alumnus], was one of the first coaches at the school who believed in my basketball abilities. We finished the year with an impressive record of 27-1. After my freshman year, Coach Quinn decided that I was ready for the challenge and bumped me up to the varsity team. My playing time fluctuated my sophomore year, but my junior senior years are where I started to develop my brand. Throughout my final two years, we won many games and cracked the Top 15 state rankings at one point during both seasons. Coach Q, who pushed and challenged me every, single day in practice (and even kicked me out a few times), was really instrumental in helping me achieve my childhood dream by receiving a full, athletic Division 1 scholarship to the University of Albany.

Hurtful words

As an African-American male, I had many challenging and eye-opening experiences at Fenwick. Some were good and some were not so good. Mr. Groom, now Principal of Fenwick, to this day still reminds me that I shouldn’t have stopped playing baseball. He was totally right, but he didn’t know the real reason why I stopped playing. Unfortunately, there was an incident where I was called a derogatory word during practice. It left a sour taste in my mouth, not only because this was the first time I experienced racism, but it came from someone I considered to be a friend.

In his senior season at Albany, the 6-foot guard averaged 20 points per game, shooting nearly 38% from three-point range.

The social issues we continue to face today have, sadly, always been around and are deeply ingrained for many. It was unfortunate that my experience happened but, hopefully, it can be a lesson for current students to treat each other with respect and dignity — independent of race, socioeconomic background or other factors that make us diverse. I know the person involved in the incident contradicts what Fenwick stands for. However, to mitigate these types of experiences, students should focus on having strong, honest and constructive communication about injustice at home, within their community and at Fenwick.

Fenwick has taught me many valuable life lessons, and I will forever be indebted to the school. Punctuality, discipline, work ethic, knowing your self-worth, social skills, integrity, humility, empathy and earning respect are some of the qualities that I learned throughout my four years. Education was paramount in my household, as my mother was a teacher and sister attended Stanford University and then received her MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. I knew in order to be challenged academically, Fenwick’s rigorous curriculum was what I needed.

In 2017, Mike made a (brief) appearance on TV’s “Bachelorette” show.

Not only was education a key component in my decision to attend Fenwick. I knew that graduating would open doors and create so many job opportunities for me in the future. Fenwick has a robust network and an incredible amount of resources that will support anyone in attaining their personal and career goals. After being laid off due to COVID-19 last March, Coach Quinn connected me with Peter Durkin, Director of Alumni Relations [and Class of ’03], who then connected me with other Friars to help find a new opportunity. Within days, Peter introduced me to Mike Healy (Class of ’03), who had recently opened up a new social club called Guild Row and was looking for a salesman. We spoke over the phone a couple of times and, within a week, he offered me a job. The saying “Once a Friar, always a Friar” didn’t resonate with me until I noticed the support from all alumni who went above and beyond to help me secure a job. Therefore, I will always be indebted to the school and appreciative of what the Fenwick community has done for me thus far.

I want to thank Coach Thies, Coach Quinn, Mr. Groom, Coach Laudadio, Mrs. Carraher and Father Joe for making my experience at Fenwick worthwhile and memorable. Friar Up!

MORE FENWICK BLACK HISTORY
Also read about:

Fenwick’s First Black Student in 1955

Why Marlon Hall Left Fenwick in the Early 1970s

ALUMNI SERVICE IN ACTION: Helping People with Disabilities

By Claire Moroni Sayers ’98

Last month, I received a truly extraordinary Christmas gift. My eight-year-old daughter, Josie, came running into the kitchen to tell me that “The Bears are on the phone.” I almost fell over. Perhaps the seeds were sewn during my Fenwick days cheering for the Black and White, or when I legally became a “SAYERS” in 2010, but I am now, quite unbelievably, the most devoted Bears fan that I know. On Mondays during football season, you will find me driving around town in my Honda Odyssey full of little kids, listening to the game recap on 670 the SCORE. It’s only a matter of time until I become a regular caller.

Needless to say, having The Bears call me on the day before Christmas Eve was an unexpected thrill. But the message I received when I picked up the phone was nothing short of miraculous. The Bears had selected Devices 4 the Disabled, a local non-profit organization, as their 2020 Community All Pros Charity, an honor that comes with a transformative gift of $101,000.

The mission of Devices 4 the Disabled’s (D4D) is to ensure that people with disabilities have access to the medical equipment they need. Our model is simple. We refurbish used medical equipment and provide it for free to those who need it most: those without insurance, and those with limited financial resources. However, behind this simplicity is life-changing work. Without proper medical equipment, people are essentially imprisoned in their environment without the ability to live independent, healthy lives.

When it feels like no one can help, D4D steps in. Sadly, we often see people in the wake of tragedy: a gunshot, a sudden stroke, a devastating diagnosis has turned a family’s world upside down. D4D meets people in this space and creates a bridge to mobility, freedom and independence. Read on for the story of a remarkable woman who is taking back her life.

Meet Tania

In the summer of 2018, Tania was a bright, social 22-year-old woman who loved children. She dreamed of being a mother. In one horrible moment, Tania’s life was permanently changed. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time: hit by three bullets intended for someone else.

After multiple surgeries, Tania survived, but she is paralyzed from the neck down, breathing through a ventilator. She cannot walk, turn herself in bed, sit up or breathe on her own. Tania is dependent on all self-care, including feeding and dressing. Her life has been transformed.  

The impact of this violence devastated Tania’s family. Her mother, eight months pregnant, rushed to the hospital to find her oldest child in critical condition. How would she be able to care for Tania while also caring for a baby and two other children? To compound this tragedy, Tania’s family did not have health insurance or the financial resources to acquire the medical equipment necessary to bring her home safely. Without these critical tools, Tania’s life expectancy outside of this hospital could be one to two years.

After months of recovery, Tania was finally able to begin the therapy that would allow her to go home. To do this, she needed a complex, customized power wheelchair. Clearly, Tania’s family could not afford such a sophisticated piece of medical equipment. And without it, Tania’s therapy could not begin.

D4D steps in

D4D had a complex power wheelchair in its warehouse donated by the ALS Society. We made all of the necessary modifications and adjustments so that the wheelchair was appropriate for Tania. We couldn’t wait to surprise Tania with her new chair.

On the day the chair was delivered, Tania’s hospital room was filled with doctors, nurses and therapists awaiting the arrival of the surprise. Tania’s mother was there. We had been told that mom had never cried in front of Tania. She said she needed to be strong for her daughter. When we arrived with Tania’s new wheelchair, mom took one look and broke down crying. Her daughter would have a life. Her daughter could begin the long journey home.

Tania has now spent 14 months in the hospital. Due to COVID restrictions, she has not had the comfort of visitors (even her mother) since March. Tania desperately awaits the day that she can come home, to live with her family, to meet her 13-month-old sister. D4D continues to work hard to bring that day closer. 

D4D recognized that in order to be safely discharged, Tania would require several pieces of medical equipment besides the wheelchair. We got to work. We delivered an electrical hospital bed and a patient lift to help her mother transfer Tania from the hospital bed to her wheelchair. We also installed a porch lift that would enable Tania to get into her home from street level. Seeing this equipment in her home brought Tania’s mother to tears once more.  A miracle was happening. Her little girl could finally come home.

Fenwick alumna Claire Moroni Sayers (Class of 1998) is the Director of Development for Devices 4 the Disabled, a Chicago non-profit that provides medical equipment to those in need. Mrs. Sayers lives in Elmhurst with her husband, Nick, and three future Friars: Josephine (’30), Juliette (’32) and Genevieve (’35). She invites all of Friar Nation to join the Bears and become a D4D partner. Email her with questions at Claire.sayers1@gmail.com.